Women4Africa Speaks to Elizabeth Uwaifo

Elizabeth UwaifoElizabeth Uwaifo has over 20 years of experience advising banks, financial institutions and corporate institutions on their financing and risk management arrangements.

She has a background in structured finance and derivatives, and has written several articles and co-authored books on derivatives and securities lending. She has also been involved in several high profile award-winning structured finance transactions.

Prior to her present position, she was Vice President at Union Bank of Switzerland and a partner for over 13 years at another major law firm.

W4A: What are the 3 most important things to you and why?

ELIZABETH: My family – it is our connection with others that gives life meaning and the family unit is our primary point of interaction with others. My work as it is the primary platform through which we contribute to society and fund our support for our families. Finally, my wellbeing as without good health we cannot function as we wish to.

W4A: What inspired you to become who you are today?

ELIZABETH: The inspiration to get where I am today has come from a variety of sources over the years. I chose to study law at university because it was the only professional degree I could find which did not require mathematics and which I felt that my father would accept. My enthusiasm for law grew while I was at university and I have been driven since then by an insatiable desire to do better. I faced many challenges along the way and in my bid to overcome, I got mentally stronger. I have been inspired by the struggles of individuals such as Nelson Mandela who have triumphed in the face of adversity. In thinking of the challenges they had to overcome always helps me to put my own challenges in perspective and encourages me to keep going.

W4A: Being a leader in the private sector, how do you balance your work-life/family-life?

ELIZABETH: In my view, work and family life must co-exist side by side and you must remain committed to both. There were times that my family life suffered due to work commitments and I had to remind myself that the sacrifice I was making was for the family as well. Also there were times that I had to put the family’s needs ahead of my work and that was acceptable provided that I nevertheless satisfied the needs of my bosses at the time. It is a juggling act to keep both balls in the air and my advice is to do it without over-analysing the situation.

W4A: What are the challenges that come with such a position?

ELIZABETH: I have suddenly become a role model and have to deal not only with my own challenges but also assist those who come to me for advice on their own challenges.

W4A: You are recognised as a ‘EMEA Leading Lawyer’. How do you think you separated yourself from other lawyers?

ELIZABETH: I started out with very strong academic grades which helped me in getting my first job. Thereafter I have tried to adopt 3 principles that I believe have served me well – work hard, learn with humility and communicate effectively.

W4A: To young upcoming female lawyers thinking they cannot achieve what you have, how would you encourage them to keep at it?

ELIZABETH: If you think you can do it then go for it. Believe in yourself and show others that you have confidence in yourself because no one will have confidence in a person who has no confidence in himself or herself.

W4A: What is the one thing you love about Africa?

ELIZABETH: Of the many things I love about Africa I would choose the optimism and resilience of Africans notwithstanding insufferable adversity.

W4A: Who inspires you and why?

ELIZABETH: I am inspired by many who have broken boundaries, defied stereotype and had the courage to follow a unique path. The list includes Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Mo Ibrahim, JK Rowling and many more.

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